Alumni push College for divestment

by Kelsey Flower | 4/9/15 7:41pm

Seventy-nine Dartmouth alumni hope to up the pressure on College administrators to divest fossil fuels through an open letter addressed to College President Phil Hanlon, the Board of Trustees and the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, originally released on April 2. The letter urges the College to make headway on the divestment of its financial portfolio from fossil fuel companies and informs the school that the undersigned alumni are donating to the Multi-School Fossil Free Divestment Fund instead of the Annual Fund.

Last December, Divest Dartmouth joined with divestment groups from 16 other colleges to create the Multi-School Fund. The fund aims to puts pressure on the involved universities to divest from fossil fuels by collecting tax-deductible donations that will be given to the universities only if they divest from fossil fuels by Dec. 31, 2017, according to the Fund.

Divesting investments in fossil fuels has two steps, according to the Fund’s website. Universities must both immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies and divest within five years from current holdings in these companies.

The student-run Divest Dartmouth alumni coordinator Morgan Curtis ’14 called joining the Fund a “catalyst for getting together the alumni group” and that sending the letter was a way to take their support to the next level.

Following a conference call, several College alumni decided to publish the letter to push the College to publish a report by the ACIR when it is finished, though it was promised to be completed by February, Curtis said. The report, commissioned by Hanlon in September 2014, is supposed to look into the pros and cons of divestment as a whole and its effect on the College.

“We were hoping to add the alumni voice urging the College to keep moving through that process,” Curtis said.

Hanlon responded to the alumni with a short note saying that he was also looking forward to ACIR’s report, Curtis said. The report has not yet been published.

Richard Clapp ’67, a professor emeritus of environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health, came up with the idea to write the letter and drafted it after a conference call with other alumni. Clapp said that he had donated to the divest fund and said most useful thing to do right now would be to support students who were calling for the divestment of fossil fuels.

Curtis said she thought that the Ruckus listerv — a mailing list for environmentalists at the College -— would want to know about the letter, so she emailed it the group. People responded to her saying that they wanted to add their names, and since the letter was published, 31 more alumni have added their names to the original 48 signatures.

The alumni are now trying to get more people to sign the letter and make donations to the divest fund, and are trying to schedule a conference call soon to discuss next steps. Clapp said his interest in divestment stems from his previous work in the department of environmental health, he said. Climate change, he said, is the “number one public health threat.”

Chris Covert-Bowlds ’84, a family doctor who signed the letter, said that he has been a long-time supporter of divestment, and when he heard about the Dartmouth alumni group, he wanted to “jump right on that.”

“It’s pretty obvious that climate change is a huge threat,” Covert-Bowlds said. “The most threatened people are poorest people of world, so it’s a basic social justice issue for me, as well as us wiping out the planet and the people on it.”

Covert-Bowlds is part of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby — a non-profit grassroots advocacy group -— and has ridden his bike to work every day for 30 years. A kick-off event for a divestment speaker tour planned by the environmental organization 350.org re-inspired him to help push any groups he was in to join the divestment movement, he said.

An important next step is raising the profile of the divestment group “visibly, verbally and electronically” in every “place, time and venue,” Covert-Bowlds said. He said he thinks that whenever alumni get requests to donate, they should respond that they are donating to the divestment fund instead.

“If Dartmouth wants to claim a leadership role, it needs to act like it,” he said.

James Reynolds ’75, who signed the letter, is a geology professor at Brevard College. He formed the Brevard Divestment group and is on the board of directors for the Galapagos Conservancy. Both Brevard and the Conservancy have divested under Reynold’s watch.

What was successful in getting Brevard to divest, Reynolds said, was finding a sympathetic ear in administrators to communicate with and to send friendly, non-confrontational emails with other administrators copied on so they could see what was said.

Curtis said that one of the good things that has come of the multi-school fund is the networking between several different alumni groups.

Recently, several Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumni organized a conference call between alumni groups from different colleges, Clapp said.

According to Divest Fund advisory council member and MIT alum Rajesh Kasturirangan, MIT alumni sent a similar letter to their university president on March 5 that was also published as a letter to the editor in the campus newspaper.

Kasturirangan said he thinks that sending the letter was a positive step for Dartmouth alumni to take.

“I think what we should be doing is not just doing it individually to our respective alma maters, but also collectively to all the college presidents,” Kasturirangan said.

Following a divestment debate at MIT yesterday, Kasturirangan said it was fantastic to see how students, alumni and professors came together for the event. He thinks alumni should work to integrate themselves more with student campaigns, as the students will one day graduate and become a part of the alumni group.

Curtis expressed similar sentiments about the multi-generational aspect of support for divestment.

“One thing that’s so exciting to me is that there are so many different generations,” Curtis said.